Yugal Joshi is a history buff who found that the stories of women warriors in India were few and far between. So he set out to find and chronicle stories of Indian women warriors, and a year and a half later has come out with his book, Women Warriors In Indian History.
The stories of these brave women are told from the perspective of other historical characters — Marco Polo recounts the story of his contemporary Queen Rudramba, Emperor Jahangir narrates the tale of Durgavati to his future consort. Read some extracts from our interaction with him:
What was the inspiration behind your book?
We have a long history, but barely any mention of women warriors. Though our society worships Goddess Durga, it is strange that we don’t find women in our narratives. My research started from there. I thought that we should at least compile those warriors whose history we know well. So I covered 10 women warriors over 600 years of history.
Unlike in our history books, I wanted to speak about women’s souls, and their philosophies. And I wanted their contemporaries of that time to narrate their stories so that their personalities could shine
Most medieval history is about men. Women warriors had to fight battles on the field and off it. They had to fight against gender and were unequivocally strong leaders who won battles in society.
What was your writing process like?
It took me a year to research the book. Unlike our history books, I wanted to speak about women’s souls, and their philosophies. And I wanted their contemporaries of that time to narrate their stories so that their personalities could shine.
I read history books, biographies, folk tales, met people, and went through archives. I found material in the National University in Singapore.
A lot of the stories are told from the male perspective. Why is that?
I chose the narrators based on the characters in history that were the contemporaries of the women warriors at the time. Tatya Tope unfolds Avantibai’s heroics to Lakshmi Bai and the eunuch General Malik Kafur regales a young sultan with Raziya Sultana’s exploits. Their world views are broad and not parochial. They are admirers. They are different. Their perspectives are not similar to normal male historians. Most of these narrators were closely associated with these women.
The story is told with a fictional quality, while maintaining the actual historical part of it.
What message would you have readers take away from the book?
I want them to know about women warriors. I also want them to learn about different parts of India and its social and political issues. Women warriors shone against all odds to command the hearts of their people.
I encourage college students and women to excel. Compared to medieval times, we have a much more conducive environment. I want these tales to inspire women to go out there.
Which story resonates most with you?
I like the story of Chand Bibi. She was a 16th century warrior from the Deccan. She was married into the kingdom of Ahmednagar to make an alliance with Bijapur against Vijaynagar. After her husband died, she controlled both Ahmednagar and Bijapur, even though there was tension between the two. Her adversaries were also Emperor Akbar.
Chand Bibi saved both Ahmednagar and Bijapur. She was so popular amongst her citizens, that even after her death, people spoke about her as if she had not died. They thought that she would come alive again. None of her male contemporaries had such influence.
Joshi is writing a second book which will go even further back in history and chronicle the stories of ancient women warriors.